There is one insult of May’s which is still echoing through the Conservative movement – and may, Brexit apart, provoke the defining battle of her premiership.
It came in her first conference speech as leader, when she announced that it was “time to reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and to embrace a new centre ground in which government steps up – and not back – to act on behalf of us all”. Doctrinal free-marketeers were effectively being told that they were on a par with Jeremy Corbyn.
Months later, May is about to give the Tories their most solid grip on government for at least 25 years. Predictions of the size of her majority range from the commanding to the colossal. For Conservatives, this should be a time for rejoicing.
And yet in conversations across Westminster, I’ve been repeatedly struck by how worried many Tories are. For those on the Left of the party, she is assembling a coalition of the hard Brexiteers – drawing in former Ukip supporters by prioritising immigration control over Britain’s economic links with Europe. And for those on the Right, her talk of workers’ rights and energy price caps represents an alarming deviation from good sense – to the point where she is starting to seem more Miliband than Maggie.
Indeed, as the months have rolled on, it is entirely clear that May is serious about her revolution – or perhaps counter-revolution. There is the energy price cap (a very bad idea, as price caps always are). There is the promise of “the greatest extension of rights and protections for employees by any Conservative government in history”. There is the way May invoked the prospect of making Britain a low-tax, low-regulation state like Singapore as a ghastly spectre. There is even a suggestion that she and Philip Hammond would quite like to raise taxes rather than cutting spending further.
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